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A Tarantula is a hairy, long-legged, long-lived spider found mostly in warm regions. Also sometimes known as Bird Spiders or Monkey Spiders, true Tarantulas make up the family Theraphosidae; related forms, including Funnel-web Spiders and Trap door Spiders, are also sometimes grouped as Tarantulas. Many species are about 2.5 to 7.5 cm (1 to 3 in) long, with a 13-cm (5-in) leg span, but some South American species are larger. Tarantulas inject a paralysing venom into prey with their large fangs. The bite is severely painful and often requires hospitalisation and pain killers. Ornamental Tarantulas (Poecilotheria) like the Fringed Ornamental from Sri Lanka,  are very fast and their bites are fairly toxic.

The term "Tarantula" refers to about 300 species of spiders some of which can weigh 2 to 3ounces and have a 10-inch leg span. Most Tarantulas are sluggish, and will not bite unless provoked. However, the bites of Tarantulas can be quite painful since the fangs are large and can pierce the skin of the victim.

Many Tarantulas have a dense covering of stinging hairs on the abdomen to protect them from enemies. These hairs can cause skin irritation for humans. 

Tarantulas usually live in burrows in the ground. These burrows may be dug by the spider or abandoned by rodents. The tunnels are lined with silk and form a webbed rim at the entrance that conceals it. The females deposit 500 to 1000 eggs in a silken egg sac and guard it for 6 to 7 weeks. The young spiders remain in the burrow for some time after hatching and then disperse by crawling in all directions. Tarantulas do not occur in colonies because they do eat each other.

Tarantulas may live for many years. Most species require 10 years to mature to adults. Females kept in captivity have been known to live more than 25 years and have survived on water alone for 2 1/2 years. Females continue to moult after reaching maturity and, therefore, are able to regenerate lost legs. Males live for only one year or less after maturity. A tarantula can be kept as a house pet. A terrarium (an empty aquarium) with a sandy bottom provides an ideal habitat. Tarantulas can be fed live crickets or other insects.

When adequately provoked, Tarantulas will bite and their formidable fangs can produce painful puncture wounds. There is another route of envenomation by the tarantula - urticating hairs located on the abdomen serve as a deterrent to predators. These are hairs that cause itching and burning.

Signs & Symptoms of Envenomation: Bites are unlikely to cause problems other than pain at the site. Skin exposure to the urticating hairs will cause itching and a rash.

First Aid: Clean the bite site with soap and water and protect against infection. Skin exposures to the urticating hairs are managed by removing the hairs with tape.

The Biggest Tarantula of All -
Theraposa Blondi

Introduction: Goliath bird-eaters (Theraphosa blondi) are the world's largest species of tarantula. Tarantula is a generic name for hairy spiders. This spider is, as its name suggests, large enough to eat a bird. It is found in the northern South American countries of Suriname, Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela. It lives in the wet swamps and marshy areas deep within the primary rainforest. The local natives of the rain forests where these live, worship and occasionally eat these spiders.

The Goliath bird-eating spider was named by explorers from the Victorian era who first reported them to the western world, and witnessed one eating a humming bird. This hairy spider has a leg span of 30.5 cm (12 inches) across, about the size of a dinner plate or small pizza, and they can weigh up to 70 g (2.5 ozs). Their bodies are dark and light brown in colour. They have four pairs of legs and their bodies are made up of two external parts; the cephalothorax, or head and neck combined, and the abdomen. They have 8 eyes like many spiders but their eyesight is weak and they can only see differences in the level of light. Instead they detect movement through sensory hairs that feel the slightest vibrations on the ground and in the air. The life expectancy for a female Goliath bird eater is about 25 years. Most require about 10 years to mature to adults. Males live for only one year or less after mating. The spiders continue to moult after reaching maturity and are able to regrow any limbs they might lose.

Habitat:  Goliath-bird eater  live in burrows in the ground dug by themselves or abandoned by rodents. The female spends most of her life in her burrow which is lined with silk. They are nocturnal spiders and rest in their burrows during the day. They do not travel more than a few feet from home, relying on food to come to them. They flick clouds of urticating hairs at any perceived threat.

Breeding: The Goliath bird-eating spider is a solitary arachnid which only associates with other spiders of its own species when mating or guarding its young. Males can be identified by the mating hooks on the first set of legs. The male will come to the entrance of the female's burrow and try to entice her out. He will use his mating hooks when she comes out to restrain her fangs while he tries to mate with her. Afterwards he has to make a fast getaway or be injured or killed by the female. About 50% of the males are killed or maimed while trying to mate.

The female deposits about 50 eggs in a silken egg sack about 1 inch (3 cm) in diameter, and stores it in her burrow. She guards it for 6 to 7 weeks, even taking the sack with her when she leaves the burrow. After the young spiders hatch they stay in the nest until their first molt, and then go out on their own.

Venom: The Goliath bird-eating spiders are considered to be very aggressive and do not make good pets. Unlike other spiders, who are noiseless, the Goliath bird-eating spider can make a hissing noise to frighten off threats by rubbing bristles on its legs together. They will also rear up on their hind legs in a threat position. Their two fangs have poison glands at their base. Although they are not very toxic to humans, they can cause severe pain, nausea and sweating. The venom works on the nervous system and paralyses its smaller victims. A more painful way of defending itself is to flick off the hairs on its abdomen with its legs. These microscopically barbed hairs can be irritating to the skin and lungs. They will cause swelling for a few hours like a nettle rash. It is most serious when the hairs get into your eyes or mouth.

Prey: The size and power of the Goliath bird-eater makes it possible for them to eat larger prey. They rarely eat birds, although they may eat hatchlings. Its usual diet consists of frogs, small snakes, beetles, insects, lizards and even bats and pinky rats. They don't have any special hunting technique, like building webs or leaping on their prey. They will sneak up on their prey and pounce on their victim, injecting them with venom which paralyses them. They will often carry their prey back to their burrow or a safe location to eat it at leisure. They don't have teeth to tear or chew their food, but regurgitate digestive juices onto their victim. The juices break down the soft tissue making it possible for the spider to suck up the liquid and eat its meal.

Although it is not threatened in the wild, it does have natural enemies like certain spider wasps, some snakes, and other tarantulas. The spiders are most vulnerable during moulting when they are fragile and can't move very well. Smaller insects can easily kill a tarantula in the process of moulting. It takes several days for the exoskeleton to harden again. The most dangerous enemy the spider has is man and the destruction of its habitat.

Need a Low-Maintenance Pet? Try a Tarantula!
Try this page for photos of different species of tarantulas.

Information and pictures were taken from children's projects and where credited to that child does not claim to be original information. Where possible, permission to reproduce has been sought. Any infringement of copyright is purely unintentional.

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